Brand Nostalgia

January 25, 2010

When I was seven years old my family moved from Tampa Florida to Bordeaux France to live for three years. French schools, french language, and french customs were a difficult adjustments for a young kid, but the one saving grace pushing me each year was that I knew I would return home to Florida for 2-3 months to spend with my grandparents.

My grandparents lived in the same home for 40 years and the summer was packed with fun event after fun event, with the best part about each summer being the school shoe shopping. Each summer I got one pair of shoes I had to wear the rest of the school year until the next summer. I wore those shoes for every occasion except Sunday church, and I pushed them to the max. When we went shopping for a new pair I would always lock-in on the same brand: Nike Air Jordans.

Not only was Michael my hero in every way, but Nike’s Jordan shoes were the coolest thing money could buy. They were also the most expensive at about $110 in 1991 (adjusted for inflation = $173) for a 9-year-old kid! I still remember the sales rep telling me how great they looked while my grandma tried to talk me into some of the other options. As we left the store I thanked my sweet grandmother profusely for the great gift. She was not impressed.

Brand guru and friend Rod Swanson, the godfather of the EA Sports and EA brands, once explained to me that a brand’s identity is that feeling people have in their gut with your brand. In some cases it might be nostalgic or it might induce vomiting. Either way your identity is tied directly with how people feel about your brand. Thus when you read about Zynga’s Scamville or  NBC’s Coco debacle their brand gets tarnished, and that warm fuzzy intangible feeling you had about them fades to decreased sales and fewer virtual fuel tanks.

But why even spend the effort and added headache of creating a brand in the first place? Isn’t it more of a pain then anything? You’ve got to align your products (Cheezburger Network), sync up the color schemes and consumer facing identity (AOL 3.0?), build products with like-minded focus and quality (Apple), and be authentic to the message you portray and really be THAT company/person (Zappos).

The positive effect of a thoughtful and authentic brand are dramatic. Look at Apple’s Tablet and the buzz it’s received. My business partner and Ex-Apple alum Jonathan constantly reminds me this ‘Tablet’ has never been confirmed and possibly is a complete imagination. The power of the Apple brand and the tenants it’s built on the past 13 years created the incredible demand for a product that may or may not exist (it does).

While Nike has struggled over the past few years to meet the expectations of their loyal fans, but for the better part of three decades they’ve maintained the excitement of a new Jordan release. Only 18 pairs released at the Foot Locker in Palo Alto this past Saturday morning. The doors opened at 9am but I arrived at 7:30am to relive that feeling I’d had almost 19 years ago as I tried on my old friends for the first time since I’d run them into the ground almost 20 years ago. The only thing that could have made it more exciting is if my grandmother had been there with me so I could have bought her a pair.

What brands get you excited enough to wake up Saturday morning to go get their latest release?

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